Easy Wall Street cash is leading U.S. shale companies to expand drilling, even as most lose money on every barrel of oil they bring to the surface.
Despite a 17% plunge in prices since April, drillers are on pace to break the all-time U.S. oil production record, topping 10 million barrels a day by early next year if not sooner, according to government officials and analysts.
U.S. crude fell again on Friday, dropping 2.8% to $44.23 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Yet the U.S. oil rig count rose Friday to the highest level in more than two years. Operators have now put more than 100 rigs back to work from Oklahoma to North Dakota in the past three months.
Companies have more capital to keep drilling thanks to $57 billion Wall Street has injected into the sector over the last 18 months. Money has come from investors in new stock sales and high-yield debt, as well as from private equity funds, which have helped provide lifelines to stronger operators.
Flush with cash, virtually all of them launched campaigns to boost drilling at the start of 2017 in the hope that oil prices would rebound.
The new wave of crude has again glutted the market. The shale companies are edged even further from profitability, and a few voices have begun to question the wisdom of Wall Street financing the industry’s addiction to growth.
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